In the world of weight loss and fitness, the ketogenic diet, a.k.a keto diet, has become quite popular. And for good reason. It works, and really fast, too. Unfortunately, many people have hopped on this train without educating themselves first.
So, what does the diet entail?
The ketogenic diet involves consuming very low amounts of carbohydrates (carbs) and large amounts of fat. Thus reducing the amount of glucose, usually gotten from carbs, available for energy. This forces the body to breakdown fat, forming “ketones,” and these become the new source of energy. The name ketogenic diet comes from this phenomenon, that is, the formation of ketones.
In the short term, weight loss from the keto diet can be faster than those on a more balanced diet that includes carbs. However, studies have shown that the level of weight loss is similar between both methods by the end of a year.
While the results on keto are great, a lot of people, while transitioning back to a more balanced diet, begin to add the weight back. I have heard this story over and over again, but the problem is not the rice or bread—they just never learned how to balance them properly.
So, if you’ve chosen to follow the keto diet, you need to learn how to consume carbs in a way that helps you maintain the results you achieved while on keto.
Is it safe?
There has been a lot of skepticism on the long-term safety of the keto diet, considering the quantity of fat consumed. People generally respond to the diet differently, experiencing varying side effects while their bodies try to adapt to it.
The side effects are usually experienced in the “transition phase.” This is the time it takes your body to begin using ketones as a source of energy, as opposed to glucose from carbs. During this period, your body basically lacks a source of energy, causing these common:
- Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar): The low blood sugar might cause you to experience:
1. Keto flu: this one of the most well-known ketogenic side effects. This includes symptoms like fatigue, runny nose, nausea, and headache.
2. Sugar cravings.
3. Dizziness and drowsiness, even fainting.
4. Reduced strength and physical performance.
- Sleep disturbance.
- Heart Palpitations.
- Frequent urination.
- Diarrhoea: While most people experience constipation, some will experience the opposite. This might be due to a change in the micro-flora (healthy bacteria) in your intestines, caused by this change in your diet.
- Muscle cramps, due to an imbalance in minerals crucial for nerve function.
- Keto Breath: The ketones your body produces come in different forms. The one that is released through the breath is called acetone, and is responsible for the keto breath. Luckily this wears off rather quickly, within one to two weeks.
Once the body starts efficiently using ketones as an energy source, most of the symptoms go away.
The long term effects
Not surprisingly, only few studies have investigated the effect of following the diet for a long time, the longest being six months. This is because most people don’t stay on the diet for long. A study of the effects, when followed up to six months, showed some amazing benefits besides weight loss:
- Significant decrease in the level of triglycerides, total cholesterol, bad cholesterol, LDL, and significant increase in the good cholesterol, HDL.
- Significant decrease in blood sugar was also shown, at least in the short term.
- Lower blood pressure.
You’ll enjoy these benefits only when you choose healthy food options. If your meals are constantly filled with processed meat like sausages and bacon and your oil choices are not healthy, you can’t expect your cholesterol levels to magically get better. Olive oil, more precisely extra virgin olive oil, remains one of the healthiest oils in the world. Other good options include coconut and peanut oil.
It is also important to note that the studies do not explicitly state the long-term effects on those with existing kidney conditions. So if you have impaired kidney function, there is not enough information at this time to tell what effects the ketogenic diet will have on your kidneys.
The information currently available proves the safety of the ketogenic diet when followed up to six months. For a long time, I have been biased against the keto diet as a weight loss solution, but I can’t argue with scientific evidence, and I’ve become a lot more open minded.
So if you are interested in the keto diet, ensure you are prepared for the side effects and know that you can lose weight without giving up carbs. It is totally doable. I personally still don’t prescribe the keto diet, because I don’t like the idea of being so restrictive. If you absolutely love your carbs, you don’t need to give them up, you just need to learn how to balance the various classes of food.
Whatever diet you decide to follow, do your research. Read from notable websites, buy a book, and seek advice from qualified nutritionists or dieticians. Never jump into any diet because it is trending and seems to be working.
I personally look forward to more research uncovering other health benefits and long-term effects of the keto diet.